Todd Bogin
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Todd Bogin

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"The Midwest Fables," Bogin's songs are genuinely
enjoyable as they grab you by the ears and heart and
shake…for the most part this non-folk/non-coffeehouse singer
songwriter album is pretty flawless"
- Rocktober Magazine


Todd Bogin grew up in Illinois and landed in Brooklyn last year where he quickly hooked up with his backing band, The Klaymations, and set to work on The Midwest Fables. For a debut it's a fine body of work, the sum total of Todd's life experiences so far. It has a wonderfully endearing way of chancing on a number of different styles yet still sounding wonderfully coherent as a whole. Todd has a strange, almost ghostly old style rock n roll voice that gives these songs a certain extra edge.

I mentioned the different styles. Can a man really be influenced by all these different acts, or does it just sound like it? Certainly I for one listen to all his apparent influences, but would I produce music that sounds, at turns, like all of them? And yet Todd still sounds very much like his own self, with his own sound.

There's superbly languid country rubber soul on 'Relax' which sounds like Supergrass at their loosest. 'What's So Sad About Being Lonely?' has a hint of the divinity that pervades The Sleepy Jackson, while you see the other side of the coin with 'Going Back To Chicago', reminiscent of the music and psychosis of Johnny Cash. Other highlights occur when Todd reaches back into the dim distant past and modernises it. 'T J Bogin's 21st Delta Blues Dream As Seen Through The Eyes Of Byrne Klay and Hadley Tassinari' is They Might Be Giants gone skiffle, 'Outburst' is Franz Ferdinand on a rockabilly tip and 'The Karma Of Abbot Bernard' is a lovely crackly waltz.

The Midwest Fables is an album that makes you wish other artists wouldn't be so afraid to experiment with their music.

- Russell's Reviews


Opening this past January, Under Minerva Art Gallery features an eclectic variety of paintings, recently debuting one live, courtesy of Jake Nelson’s brush and his Midwest muse from Chicago, Todd Bogin – on guitar, vocals and harmonica. The kindred duo was complemented that evening by the angelic vocals and acoustic guitar of singer songwriter Maggie Doucet.

Sprawled on the hardwood floor were close to 40 gleeful visitors surrounded by a medley of paintings ranging from abstracts to woeful, cognitive landscapes.

...Bogin swaggered on stage donned with a harmonica and acoustic guitar; Nelson ready with a freshly coated brush at the canvas. His second song, “The City,” takes lyrics inspired by the NYC landscape and laces them together with threads of folk and blues.

The biggest fan favorite of the night, “Poor Man’s Dance,” rocked the gallery like a barnyard hoedown. A blissful, delta blues howling came from Jackson Kinheloe on harmonica with Bogin ripping it up the guitar and mic. Icing on the cake was delivered with a dope violin solo shredded by Jacksonville, Tennessee native John Henry.

“Take the R Train to Brooklyn” evoked the image of staring out the empty window of a semi-filled subway car (most likely the R) and encapsulated it into a fingerprint tune that could be nostalgic for a both a New Yorker and non-native alike. Nelson parallels Bogin’s energy, continuously carving out a moving portrait of the singer while
using his paint scarred jeans and hands as makeshift palates.

After an ecstatic encore from the audience, Bogin - looking about ready for an ice cold beer- and Kinheloe returned to the stage for one last romp while Nelson polished out the final touches of his painting of Bogin.

The synergy between Bogin and Nelson, however, was what made their individual performances look even more effortless and ensnaring. The tangible and retrospective result, once the brush is down and the music stops, is a throbbing feeling within the stomach for just one more stroke of paint or blues lick –and also what’s next to come.

-Evan Alvarez - Beyond Race Magazine


We all know how music can inspire various moods. When I was in Los Angeles last year, I heard composer James Horner speak on how a film's score manipulates how we are supposed to feel while watching contemporary cinema, making even the hokiest, computer-generated story line seem acceptable and, even, moving.

But the genuine artists who effectively spin combinations of lyrics and music can be viewed as healers, treating us to an examination of our feelings through the abstract declarations of a timeless ballad.

One such musician and songwriter is Todd Bogin, who is able to conjure new songs that convey a remarkable sensibility rarely found in the consumer-oriented commercial crass that is modern pop culture.

While still a student at Baruch College, Bogin is actively cultivating his markedly singular musical presence that stands apart from other acts and that speaks to a new generation disillusioned with the usual barrage of hyper-sensational garbage offered by most radio and TV.

His music is informed by a deep knowledge of quality artists whose work remains from the not-so-distant past, such as Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, and The Beatles. "I love Dylan for his lyrics and the rawness of his early days. His whole career is one long American folk tale," says Bogin in a recent interview. "There are gems throughout." The songwriter also cites Hank Williams as a source of inspiration. "He sang the simplest songs you can imagine but they were so deep that, over fifty years after his death, they are still classics," he reflects. "Straight up country tunes."

Bogin thinks that people who seem to hate country music are now clouded by a vision of the ill-fated genre personified by "a drunken hill-billy with a bad tan and a cowboy hat wearing a buttoned down shirt," bellowing "cheesy lyrics about your pick-up truck." "But that's not what country music in its rarest form is about," he argues.

True country music relates to the common man's strife, often expressing a frustration "about being poor, angry and heartbroken." The genre's challenge is putting these hardships to song in the most realistic way possible, while maintaining a light, comical reflection on life. "Hank has a great sense of humor even in some of his saddest songs, such as 'Lost Highway,' or even 'My Bucket's Got A Hole in It,'" Bogin says, "He can be singing a 'happy' sounding song about the saddest thing."

Bogin's music is also influenced by the "Father of the Blues," Muddy Waters (1913-1983), an inspiration who died in Westmont, Illinois, a town where Bogin spent some of his childhood. He also cites the lyrics and song formations of the legendary Cole Porter (1891-1964) as being a major influence.

"Every song he writes is a story with the wittiest words that make you laugh and think," Bogin says, "not to mention he is absolutely brilliant with his songwriting in terms of his chord structures and progressions."

Of modern musicians, Bogin mentioned few names but expressed his admiration for the groups Modest Mouse and Wilco, declaring the latter's music as being "natural and tight."

Bogin's love of reading inspires him equally, if not more than, the work of his musical predecessors. "I can read a great novel and be inspired to write a song," remarked the musician. "Or even read a great line in a story and write a song." After a moment's reflection, he added, "Books are songs just waiting to have music put to them."

Bogin's artistic beginnings can be primarily credited to his father, a musician whose home was abundantly surrounded with acoustic and electric guitars, pianos, trumpets, drums and other instruments, which were readily available all around the home.

Music, however, was never forced on the younger Bogin. "It was just something I was drawn to. Even before I knew how to say the word 'guitar' I would pick up my father's, and pretend to play. I would try to tune it even though I didn't know how. I broke many strings," he laughs.

Like a slew of revolutionary musicians ranging from Irving Berlin to James Ingram, Bogin is largely self-taught, showcasing his keen ability to self-discipline and seek melodious values and discoveries by himself.

The songwriter's first independently-produced album - aptly titled The Midwest Fables - was released soon after the young musician moved from Illinois to New York in August 2005. Recorded with his group The Klaymations, the album contains an impressive number of great original songs, but admittedly was more of a published experience in the obvious trials and tribulations of recording a first album, as well as the great challenge in compiling songs that flow well together as a package. As a result, the sound quality and technical defects interfere with hearing Bogin's marvelous musical numbers, but the song's superior songwriting and melodic qualities persevere throughout.

The song "Flying on Empty," is directly about an eating disorder; but in the broader sense, the piece seems to refer to one being addicted to one's troubles - "using pain as a blanket and as an excuse," the artist explains. Still, the song remains a happy back beat shuffle "that the kids can dance to." Another outstanding number is "Relax," written a few years ago through an accidental inspiration related to discovering an "awful drum machine" at a garage sale in Bolingbrook, IL. The machine projected toy-like sounds of percussion - and was "the only time I've ever made use of a drum machine," Bogin laughs.

The Midwest Fables also contains a cozy little number called "The Fall," which seemingly is about a hopeless romantic being in love with the concept of love, and further projecting that onto someone who simply doesn't have the same understanding. The lyrics, however, are conveniently abstract so they are open to interpretation. Some of the titles are almost psychedelic in nature, such as "TJ Bogin's 21ST Delta Blues Dream."

The song, which has simple rhymes, strums along through a fun, finger-picking guitar with bass and drums behind it. "If I were to ever re-record that tune," says Bogin, "I'd find a choir of children to sing it with me." As for the song "Rented Time," it is an unbelievably joyous, foot-tapping ode about the inevitability of death, set to rocking blues music.

Currently working on perfecting songs for his sophomore album, Bogin plans to record it with his new group, The Lovin' Indifferent, under the guidance of evasive record producer Thaddeus J. Snead later this spring, with an eye for a summer 2008 release. Judging by a sampling of rough studio tracks I was treated to, the un-named album promises to offer a different vision that vastly surpasses Bogin's first gallant effort and may possibly be his ride to mass public appreciation.

"This one is much more intricately put together, in terms of style and lyrics of each song," he says. "I've worked with Thaddeus before with other artists and in some demos that we did. But this will be the first time he will be controlling things on a project of mine. It will be interesting to see how we work after building a personal relationship. He can be really tough but he forces me to be more creative and competent than I think I can be."

The songs to be featured in the album are still being determined -8 and written. "The playing will be far better because over the past year we've played so many shows and have worked hard at getting better as musicians," Bogin says. "The first album I brought the songs to the band and we went right in and recorded. This one we've spent hours lining out each one's arrangements but still leaving it with a raw feeling. I don't want to sound 'over-produced' because that's just not me."

"Better lyrics," he adds. "The first album I wrote the lyrics and never thought too much about them. This one I worked very hard on every word. But who wants to hear someone talk about a song they wrote? What can be more boring? It's like listening to someone talk about their kids." Hardly. The pieces deal with universally compelling material, often dark, such as our limited time on earth or the feeling of loneliness in the crowd. Among the songs being considered include a dark number written in December 2007 called, "The City," which includes the lyrics "Why even bother when you're gonna die/ Just call it living without being alive" followed by the poetic chorus line, "Just another burnt out bulb in the city lights." Despite the subject matter, the song is inarguably upbeat.

Another piece is "The Convention of the Confused," which originated one day when the composer was sitting in the subway car next to some lady engrossed in a self-help book. The book's title had something to do with being lonely and that the reader was not at fault; others just don't see her beauty. The image of the woman and her unintentional public declaration of her deep insecurities inspired Bogin to write the song, written from the woman's point of view.

I was given about a dozen versions of cuts for "The Smile at the End of the Slope," showcasing Bogin's burning creative spirit. The many takes, which included different lyrics, contained so many brilliant thoughts that it was difficult to navigate or interpret the song: for one, it reflected on a cardiologist who died of a heart attack, yet with a romantic twist. Another version also discussed a one-year anniversary of the demise of a Brazilian model who had passed away from an eating disorder.

One of the versions contained the romantic line, "Love is a feeling I save for you." While the simplicity of the title of the song appears to also fit a children's book, it is loaded with meaning. It certainly suggests death, but also declares that there might be a smile when it happens. The formidable piece, once finished, promises to be a Bogin masterpiece.

Another single that may be included the new album's mix is "Forgetting to Live," which points out our mistake of sometimes looking too much to the future and not actually being in the moment. The song examines looking too far ahead, or too far behind, and 'forgetting' to live in the present. "It's also about aspartame," adds the songwriter, perhaps jokingly.

Backing the guitar and lyrics of, essentially, Bogin, The Lovin' Indifferent features master percussionist Hadley Tassinari on drums and the remarkably talented Bob Hait on bass guitar. "It's a very old style feel with the two of them," Bogin says of his crew, "Hadley and I have been playing together for two and a half years now, and are almost at the point where we have ESP with each other's playing. Bob really reminds me of the wonderful 1970's bassist Derek Smalls, raw and rocking."

The group's eclectic and appropriate name comes from the mind of Bogin: a mix of inspirations ranging from such diverse sources as 1960's supergroup The Lovin' Spoonful, legendary blues and harmonica musician Howlin' Wolf, and Nobel laureate Elie Weisel.

The Lovin' Spoonful - the genius rock & roll quartet whose numbers include the utterly timeless "What A Day For A Daydream" - found their group's name from a Howlin' Wolf song. Bogin had been listening to The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions (with Eric Clapton on lead and Steve Winwood on keyboard) when regrouping his band.

As for the Weisel reference, a key line in the acclaimed author's memoir Night poignantly declares, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." The juxtaposition of forces in The Lovin' Indifferent's name is a further testament to Bogin's strong aura of displacement, evoking the age-old image, from medieval folklore, of The Wandering Jew. Bogin appears as a Midwesterner in the heart of the urban East Coast, New York City; a musician seeking truth in an era of popular lies; a classic rock/folk composer (a "Folk & Roll" musician) in a sex-crazed R&B/commercial rock soaked society; or, as Elvis Costello cryptically put it, a "man out of time." Yet, Bogin faces this challenge and appears to master it, creating his very own image of an original, brilliant artist.

"I consider myself a citizen to Earth and to America," Bogin remarks in discussing his hybrid, indefinable image. "I love New York more than anything and will hopefully live here for a long time. There's no better city than this; that's no lie. I liken New York to a wonderfully healthy relationship with a spouse: I know everything that's wrong with this city and there's a lot, but all that is good outweighs the bad and I just can't leave it."

This is probably why the musician does not seem to regard on the music that is currently churned out en masse by his peers - which actually only contribute to his obvious originality amongst his generation. "I admire many modern musicians," he finally says, after being repeatedly questioned about any contemporary music that he listens to. "I've always been stuck in a different time, though. Always felt like I was born in the wrong time period but I do listen to newer musicians. I've never gotten turned on by electronic music or DJ's but I respect it."

He does have a vision for a future album in which he will fuse his own genre of folk-rock in a hip-hop blend, or with the transcendental, mystic sounds of New Age. He intends to someday lock himself in his own basement-type recording studio and produce non-stop until he generates several perfected albums in a stark variety of styles. The idea, and Bogin's enthusiasm in explaining his vision, promise a creation that will be revolutionary.

"I have over 300 songs recorded in my apartment - and many more if I go back to my high school tapes," Bogin shares about his shockingly unbridled creativity and heavy self-criticism - both birthmarks of a noteworthy artist. "The 300 songs alone are from the past few years; but out of the 300, I'd be lucky if 20 of them were good. But the goal is to always write. And if you think you got something, try that song, maybe ten different ways. Maybe take a good part from a bad song and mix it with another and you'll hit something."

While completing his studies at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences (where he will graduate later this year with a major in English and a minor in music), Bogin is actively at work preparing his next studio album, occasionally appearing at staples of the New York City independent music scene such as Hank's Saloon and, most recently, with an acoustic performance last week at Googie's Lounge.

Bogin's first album is available on iTunes and upcoming acts are announced at toddbogin.com and myspace.com/toddbogin. - The Ticker


Discography

The Smile at the End of the Slope. (to be released Feb. 2010 as an LP).

Poor Man's Songs: Live at The Bowery Poetry Club. 2009.

The Midwest Fables. 2007. Full length LP

Todd Bogin Acoustic Live: At The Baggott Inn, NYC 3/16/2007

Photos

Bio

Born in the Midwest and wandering ever since, Todd Bogin has lived life in love with music and literature. With a neurotic mind that never relaxes and a constant yearning for creativity Bogin has played music since a very young age creating a mix of folk, blues and rock. His backing band formed organically in the South Slope section of Brooklyn, NY and includes amazing musicians from the community who all know how to rock out and have fun and perform on stage with a love for music that is often not seen live anymore. Together they have performed over 75 concerts in 2009 alone, which includes shows at huge venues such at Highline Ballroom and the 92 St. Y, smaller places like Roots cafe that are always filled to capacity and a tour throughout the country. For more information check out www.myspace.com/toddbogin